Is Zika Still A Problem In Our State?

There’s no doubt about it: Zika is on the retreat in the Americas.

In Brazil, cases are down by 95 percent from last year. Across the Caribbean, outbreaks have subsided. And in Florida, the virus seems to have gone into hiding. Health officials haven’t investigated a new Zika case for more than 45 days in Miami-Dade County.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted the last travel warning for southern Florida. The agency is no longer recommending that pregnant women avoid the region.

“That’s really exciting news,” says Dr. Christine Curry, an OB-GYN at the University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital. “Everybody has sort of exhaled.”

But the threat to pregnant women, whether residents or travelers, isn’t over — not in the least — Curry says, neither in Florida nor abroad.

So what should pregnant women and their families, or women who are trying to get pregnant, do? Let’s start with Florida. Then we’ll swing back to the international question at the end.

Living or traveling in South Florida

“We can’t go back to the days before Zika, where you just walked around without thinking about bug spray or the clothes you’re wearing,” Curry says. “People still need to practice good mosquito-bite prevention when they’re living in South Florida or traveling there.”

The CDC outlines the precautions needed in Miami-Dade County and other areas of the U.S. where Zika has circulated, such as Brownsville, Texas.

These precautions are most important for pregnant women, those trying to get pregnant and their mates. For example:

  • Expectant couples should continue to use condoms “every time they have sex (including vaginal, anal, and oral sex),” the CDC writes, because the Zika virus can stay in the semen of an infected man for months.
  • Pregnant women should continue to get tested for Zika up to eight weeks after the travel ban has been lifted for a region — which would be until about August of 2017 for South Florida.

Such precautions are important, Curry says, for several reasons.

First, even when it looks like Zika has “disappeared,” Curry says, it could still be circulating. About 80 percent people who are infected with the virus don’t have any symptoms at all.

And if the virus is merely lurking below detectable levels, Zika cases could start cropping up again at any moment. Last summer, Zika likely circulated in Florida for months before it was detected by health officials, a recent study found.

So if you live in South Florida, or are headed there this summer, pack the DEET, cover clothes in permethrin and be on the lookout for skeeters.

Traveling overseas

Although Zika cases have dropped across the Caribbean and Latin America, the CDC’s travel recommendations haven’t changed. Pregnant women should not travel to places where Zika is circulating. If a spouse travels to one of these areas, the couple should use condoms for at least six months.

Couples trying to get pregnant should also not travel to these regions. If they must, the CDC recommends waiting at least six months before trying to conceive after a man returns from a country with Zika and waiting at least eight weeks after a woman returns.

Fetal medicine expert Dr. Neil Silverman worries that some doctors are forgetting to give their patients these travel warnings.

“We’ve gotten calls at our practice from women who have traveled to areas where’s there’s clearly active transmission of Zika,” says Silverman, an OB-GYN at the Center for Fetal Medicine in Los Angeles.

“Either their doctors have essentially decided the risk is over or the woman forgot to ask. Then they come back home and realize that there was a risk.”

Even if a country has reported only a few cases — or hasn’t had a case in months — Silverman says the recommendations are the same.

Take for instance, India, which reported its first official cases in May. There were only three cases recorded, across the entire country. But the virus has likely been circulating in India for decades, studies show. And pregnant women should avoid travel there, Silverman says.

For the purpose of a traveler, there’s not a huge distinction between whether a country has a large number of new cases occurring or whether there’s sort of a background, long-standing risk,” he says.

Places with this sort of background risk include large parts of Southeast Asia and Africa.

So if you’re pregnant or “trying,” check out the CDC’s Zika map before booking a plane ticket, and avoid all the areas that are purple on the map.

“With everything else going on in the country and in the world, Zika has taken a little bit of a backseat in the news cycle,” Silverman says. “But it’s still a big concern.”

Travel: This Hotel Shapes Your Vacation Around Your Horoscope

“Your glow is bound to attract all sorts of wonderful things and delicious people. You’re lit up from within right now.” If I were to design a vacation out of today’s horoscope, I’d probably stop by the Sydney Opera House and then eat my friend Josie before I spontaneously combust—probably due to the Australian heat.

A new, boutique hotel in Sydney, Australia is shaping vacations just like that, astrologically. It’s called The Ultimo, and it’s the world’s first astrology-themed hotel. From the rooms equipped with astrological literature, artwork and even slippers to the unique city guides curated to your sign, The Ultimo aligns your vacation with the zodiac.

Because it’s Gemini season, here’s how the hotel recommends a Gemini spend their Sydney trip. “Born with the need to communicate, Gemini is the sign of the social butterfly.” Following The Ultimo “Explorology” guide, Gemini vacationers should, “Belt out some tunes at Dynasty Karaoke right next door to The Ultimo; head to Oxford Street and lose yourself at some of Sydney’s best bookstores, Berkelouw Books; and cure your curiosity and take a Captain Cook cruise around Sydney Harbour.”For food, they should consider: The Local Mbassy, a 1920’s boiler-room-inspired cafe; Golden Century for some seafood; and the underground bar Palmer & Co.

This entire analysis is curated by the hotel’s astrologer Damian Rocks, founder of the organization Stars Like You and a resident of Australia’s morning talk show circuit.

Astrology-packaged rooms start at $229 per night, which is roughly the price of an hour consultation with Damian. So if you’re feeling on edge or in the midst of an existential crisis, The Ultimo might provide some direction … now the only problem is reaching Australia.

Travel: You Can Camp Out in These Restored Fire Lookouts

High above the forests across America there are special lookout towers that were constructed by the Civil Conservation Corps after the Great Fire of 1910 as an early warning system in an age before radios, aircraft and GPS. The lookouts are no longer used for their original purposes, but a few have been restored and maintained to serve as respites among the nature they were originally built to protect. Heather and Andrew Pogue were brave enough to venture up a trail in Washington on their way to the Park Butte Lookout, where they slept overnight and documented the entire journey. The views from the 360-degree tower (it was a “lookout,” after all) captured by the camera are breathtaking in every direction… especially when paired together with their editorial coverage. Maintained by the Skagit Alpine Club, the Park Butte Lookout is available on a first come, first service basis with a donation area to help support the cause.

Travel: How to Travel Across the USA by Train for Just $213

In December 2011, adventure traveler / entrepreneur Derek Low spent four days traveling across the USA by train for just $213. The 3,397-mile journey took him across 11 states and through 4 time zones along with allowing him to see both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. Low documented the entire epic trip on his site, and we highly recommend you check it out here. If you’re interested in planning a similar trip of your own, Low started a travel planning service that will help you book all your tickets for a small service fee of $49. It’s still going to be cheaper than airfare, and this is a great way to see to the country.

Royal Caribbean Will Pay You to Quit Your Job, Travel The World and Take Instagrams

Have you ever spent the day scouring your city for that perfect shot, when the sky is a dreamy pink and the setting sun bounces off the glowing skyscrapers in just the right way? Then, after a days worth of work and only a few dozen likes to show for it, you think to yourself “Damn. If only had gotten paid for that.” If so, then put down your smartphone, and listen up.​

Royal Caribbean is looking to hire a master Instagrammer for a paid summer “intern-ship,” for which you’ll be required to snap and post eye-popping shots from a three-month trip around the world. Okay, now that you’ve regained consciousness, here’s how it works:

If you’re over 21 and have “extensive knowledge of all 23 filters,” you can earn £3,000 (almost $3,700) as an amateur photographer on three cruise ships that’ll take you all over the globe—for free. All you have to do is position yourself as a “hybrid between a photographer, documentary maker and a storyteller” to land the summer job of your dreams.

If the panel of travel experts happens to choose you, you’ll be tasked with posting three photos on Instagram each day; one of a breathtaking view, one of an awesome person found on board, and one of a mind-blowing experience. If that sounds like something you’d be into, just post your most incredible travel photos from now until January 31 and include @RoyalCaribbeanUK and #ExtraordinaryExplorer in the caption. 

Just make sure you send us a postcard. 

This Is the Best Week to Book Your Thanksgiving Airfare

If you’re flying home for Thanksgiving, now’s probably the best time to buy your ticket.

According to a report by Skyscanner, the cheapest flights for the Thanksgiving holiday can be
found this week, from October 31 to November 4. The study found that flights during the week of Halloween were 7.73 percent cheaper than those at any other time before Thanksgiving weekend.

To gather the data, Skyscanner analyzed flight rates from last year’s Thanksgiving to help project the dates at which airfare will be at its lowest. The result: Four weeks before the holiday seems to be the sweet spot.

Those booking should know that there’s no such thing as truly cheap days to fly over Thanksgiving, but thanks to information from FareCompare, these itineraries can save some money.


Win a Night Inside a Taco Bell

Not since that night in college when we smoked way too much have we thought about spending a night inside a Taco Bell. Then, while scouring Airbnb for unique stays, the thought crossed our minds again, when we came across this listing. Taco Bell wants to give you a SteakCation. One lucky winner along with three of their friends will travel to Ontario for an overnighter in a Taco Bell. But fear not! You won’t be sleeping on freshly mopped floors or in booths, Taco Bell has decked out the location with bunk beds, a big screen, video games, and plenty of their new Steak Doubledillas to keep you happy. Plus, a Taco Bell Butler will make sure you’re taken care of during your stay. The only requirement is that you Live Más.


Travel: Airbnb Asks Hosts to Be Less Racist

It appears that the short-term rental company Airbnb has heard African Americans’ complaints about discrimination in their services, grievances aired publicly over Twitter and in media outlets including The Root. On Thursday, Airbnb announced new guidelines for their members on how to reduce racial biases that leave African Americans with fewer opportunities to enjoy the service.

Wrote Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in a letter to his members Thursday:

Discrimination is the opposite of belonging, and its existence on our platform jeopardizes this core mission. Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them. Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry. I take responsibility for any pain or frustration this has caused members of our community. We will not only make this right; we will work to set an example that other companies can follow.

The company issued a 32-page report that details the new changes. Its lead author is Laura Murphy, a former American Civil Liberties Union attorney, who Airbnb called in for a diagnostic check of its policies. Other civil rights heavy-hitters, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Wade Henderson, also contributed to the report. The new Airbnb rules boil down to four major changes the company is asking its members to abide by to root out racial discrimination in Airbnb rentals:

  • Requiring all Airbnb hosts to sign a “Airbnb Community Commitment,” which is described in Chesky’s letter as “a stronger, more detailed nondiscrimination policy.” It pledges that all members are to be treated “with respect, and without judgment or bias,” regardless of their race, religion, sex, or gender.  
  • Instituting a new “Open Doors” policy that obligates Airbnb to accommodate any guest who reports discrimination—past, present, or future. Airbnb has pledged to find  “a similar place to stay if one is available on Airbnb, or … an alternative accommodation elsewhere” for anyone filing such a complaint.
  • Expanding the Airbnb option called “Instant Book,” which makes a host’s home available immediately upon booking, without the host having to approve the guest ahead of time.
  • Making an anti-bias training available to Airbnb members, with Airbnb publicly acknowledging those who chose to complete the course.

The “Open Doors” policy seems a bit superficial in that it doesn’t seem to do much to actually correct the racism: There is no stated penalty for those who actually discriminate, nor anything that disincentivizes discrimination to begin with. The company offers to find the offended guests alternative accommodations, but those guests would end up in a place that was not their preferred choice anyway.

The “Instant Book” and anti-bias trainings sound like promising steps, but it will be interesting to see how many members actually volunteer for them. Other steps mentioned in the report, like reducing the use of members’ photos in the Airbnb booking function could also offer some reassurance.

These are important first steps, but there is likely more needed to thoroughly weed out the “widespread discrimination against African-American guests,” that Harvard researchers found in Airbnb services back in January.

“There are still additional factors at play here and policies to establish in the new system,” says Sherrell Dorsey, founder of the daily black tech newsletter ThePLUG, who has written about Airbnb alternatives for African Americans. “For instance, if customers are able to instantly book a place without the need for host approval, what happens to that customer if they arrive on someone’s doorstep who refuses to let them in or worse? I’d like to understand more of the thinking behind the long game and what the company is doing to ensure safety for all of their users.”

Part of the impetus for this new initiative may be that Airbnb is losing customers to new home-sharing services like Innclusive, Noirbnb, and Cozy Oasis, which cater directly to people of color for short-term rental services. Chesky admits in his letter that his company “has been slow on this issue” of rental discrimination, but some African Americans aren’t waiting around for Airbnb to figure it out. As with most things, black leisure is not dependent upon white approval.

Travel: The Best National Parks Outside of the USA

We all know the US has beautiful National Parks. Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon are just a few of the incredible natural wonders inside the US borders. But obviously, nature’s gifts aren’t limited to only this country. That’s impossible. There’s a whole planet out there.

International national parks offer equally amazing wonders with the added thrill of new cultures and topography. If you travel for adventure, the unknown, or diversity, it’s time to explore your abroad options.

Serengeti National Park

Location: Tanzania, Africa

Why You’re Going: The Big 5 (AKA elephants, cape buffalo, leopards, rhinoceros, and lions)

The Serengeti National Park is home to 5700 sq. miles of African wilderness. World renowned for its wildlife, the park is divided into three geographically distinct regions, each with its own topography, flora and fauna: the Northern Serengeti, the Serengeti Plains, and the Western Corridor. The Northern Serengeti predominantly consists of hills and woodlands where you can expect to see zebras and migrating wildebeest. The Western Corridor is swampy and covered with black clay. Denizens include crocodiles and hippopotamus. The Serengeti Plains are where most of the action takes place due the almost treeless grasslands that stretch on for miles.

Fiordland National Park

Location: The South Island of New Zealand

Why You’re Going: Epic Hikes

Located in the Southwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island, Fiordland National Park offers 4800 square miles of jaw dropping terrain. It’s one of the more remote locations in the world and has massive fjords, snowcapped peaks, and rain forests. We weren’t expecting rain forests in Norway but there they are. There are over 500 km of trails throughout the park as well as huts for lodging.  New Zealand is known for multiday hikes and three of the most famous trails run through Fiordland National Park. If you’re looking for a walkabout but aren’t sold on the traditional idea of Australia, Fiordland is a great alternative.

Galapagos National Park

Location: Galapagos Island (600 miles west of Ecuador)

Why You’re Going: In the name of Darwinism

Naturally isolated and containing a plethora of unique flora and fauna, the ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands is unique. Charles Darwin explored these islands in the mid 19th century and their inhabitants sparked the initial idea that eventually became his Theory of Natural Selection, which he wrote about in his book On the Origin of Species. A snorkeling and diving paradise, the fact that many of the animals don’t have natural predators allows people to get close and personal with the wildlife. Giant tortoises, cormorants, and the blue-footed bobby are just a few of the animals these life-altering islands host.

Vatnajökull National Park

Location: Iceland

Why You’re Going: To experience Fire and Ice

Vatnajokull National Park is one of the largest national parks in Europe and accounts for 13% of Iceland. A massive glacier, the largest outside of the arctic, covers the majority of the park and offers incredible ice climbing, hiking and snowmobiling. Beyond that, volcanic activity, rivers, waterfalls, and lagoons add a dramatic range of landscapes to be explored. There’s a weird mix of landscapes here, so take a few days and see as much as you can. Not many other places offer such geographic diversity.

Pantanal Matogrossense National Park

Location: Brazil (along the Bolivian border)

Why You’re Going: To see the wonders of the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest is one of the most amazing ecological areas in the world. Its biodiversity is such that more than 10% of the global plant and animal species reside in this single environment. The Pantanal offers the highlights of the Amazon without a direct dive into the bush. A sprawling 335,000-acre wetland largely devoid of human activity, presents an unspoiled area where tapirs, anteater, deer, jaguars and more than 600 species of birds can be observed. However, this vacation’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s difficult to traverse dense and unfriendly jungle and be sure to book your trip in the dry season (June to September). But if you’re confident and experienced enough to make it, you’ll be rewarded.

Swiss National Park

Location: Switzerland

Why You’re Going: To hike the Alps

The Swiss National Park is a great option for those just starting the adventure lifestyle. Originally created in 1914 and comprising more than 42,000 acres, the only national park in Switzerland contains all of the best geographic offerings of this beautiful region. Majestic peaks, beautiful glacier carved valleys, and ideal alpine scenery make these mountains storybook beautiful. Over 50 miles of trails range in difficulty and are the best way to experience one of the most beautiful, iconic mountain ranges in the world, the Alps.

Göreme National Park

Location: Turkey (Central Region)

Why You’re Going: Rock Formations and Ancient Culture

The Goreme National Park is located in the central region of Turkey called Cappadocia. Centuries of water and wind have carved the stalagmite formations (often called fairy chimneys) out of sedimentary rock. Due to the secluded nature of the region and the relative softness of the rock, subterranean cities were carved under the rock formations and in the rock chimneys as early as the 4th century. A spectacular combination of adventure and culture, this region is best seen from a hot air balloon during the golden hour.

Komodo National Park

Location: Indonesia

Why You’re Going: To find a modern day Dragon

Komodo National Park refers to three islands in the Indonesian archipelago: Komodo, Rinca and Padar. The park was originally created to protect its most famous inhabitant, the Komodo Dragon and protection has been slowly extended to cover the Islands’ and surrounding water’s other inhabitants. There’s no question that the Komodo Dragon is the star attraction of the park, but the area also offers unparalleled diving and snorkeling. Other highlights include coral reefs, dugong, sharks, manta rays, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. An airport expansion has made visiting the other side of world just a little bit easier for those so inclined.

Cuba Gives Final Approval For First Commercial Flights From Florida

If you’ve had your bags packed and been ready to go to Cuba, there’s good news: the island nation’s government has have given the final go-ahead for commercial flights taking off from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

JetBlue and American Airlines are now cleared to start commercial service to several airports on the island, reports the Miami Herald. It’s good timing, too, since JetBlue has a flight scheduled to Santa Clara from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood-International Airport on Aug. 31, nabbing the first regularly scheduled commercial flight to Cuba in more than 50 years.

American is next up, with its first flight from Miami International Airport to Cuba starting on Sept. 7. Eventually, JetBlue is hoping to add service to Holguín and Camagüey in November, again, after it receives approval for those airports. American has received approval to land and take off from all five Cuban airports already, and will offer 56 weekly flights to Cuba total.

Thus far the Department of Transportation has only given preliminary approval to American, JetBlue, and the other airlines that applied to fly 20 daily routes to Havana. That approval is expected to land later this year, while Cuba’s will have to sign off on those flights as well.